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Plan suggests ideas for extending biking and walking trails in city

Matthew Johnson, community development director for Mid-Minnesota Development Commission of Willmar, makes a point during the meeting. Tribune photo by Gary Miller

WILLMAR -- A local task force has completed work on a plan of ideas to extend and improve the city's biking and walking trails.

The goal of the plan is to have a trail and pedestrian-friendly community, says Matthew Johnson, community development director for Mid-Minnesota Development Commission of Willmar.

"If these ideas were implemented over the next 10 to 20 years, with the key implementation ideas over the next five years, this would make Willmar a very nice place to live. It would only help,'' said Johnson.

Work on the plan began approximately six months ago after the Willmar Community Education and Recreation Department hired Mid-Minnesota Development Commission to write the plan. Willmar Community Education and Recreation took the lead in preparing the planning process.

An 18-member task force representing the Willmar Police Department, Kandiyohi County Public Health, Rice Memorial Hospital, Minnesota Department of Transportation, consulting firms, citizens, and City of Willmar staff was appointed to help guide the decision-making process.

In its vision statement, the task force said the city will develop and maintain an interconnected bicycle and pedestrian system where residents and visitors have safe, accessible, and convenient options to meet their needs.

The plan consists of six chapters, including an introduction, a community profile, standards and guidelines for bicycle and pedestrian projects, recommendations on specific projects, goals and objectives, and an implementation chapter.

Johnson said a big question is how the improvements will be paid, and the implementation chapter identifies a number of funding sources such as state and federal transportation grants, Department of Natural Resources programs, and other non-local funding opportunities.

"It won't just fall on the City Council's responsibility,'' said Johnson.

He said businesses could sponsor certain trail segments and a "friends of the trails committee'' could be formed to take care of some of the potential work.

Johnson and several other task force members were present to explain the plan during an open house Tuesday afternoon at the City Office building.

Del Pepple of Willmar said he was present to get some idea of what the plan is for and to allow bikers to be able to go to and from different locations.

Pepple said he is a recreational trail user.

"I don't have to ride to work,'' he said. "So for me it's fun just to get out and ride through the community. The trail goes right past my house and sometimes I take parts of the trail and just explore. So I guess I'm here for my own information, what is happening and expanding it and where it goes from here.''

The plan's goals, objectives and policies call for future action during the next 20 years in planning for the needs of pedestrian and bicyclists. As a result, the plan is an addendum to the city's comprehensive plan, which was updated in 2009.

Some key objectives in the comprehensive plan regarding bicycle and pedestrian planning are:

- Provide a transportation system (street, rail, air, pedestrian and bike trails) that complements land use development and reinforces a staged growth approach to future development.

- Encourage street and trail systems, which maximize accessibility to places of employment, recreation, shopping, entertainment, and all developed portions of the city.

- Cultivate a healthy city that is "walkable and bikeable.''

- Plan street, pedestrian, and trail systems that provide access to all developed portions of the city, connecting parks and open spaces.

The plan will be the subject of a public hearing at the Planning Commission meeting at 7 p.m. today at the City Office building. Afterward, the plan will go to the City Council and the council will be asked on July 5 to set a hearing in later July and adopt the plan.

Johnson said the extensions and safety improvements for bike lanes, routes and trails are just ideas. He said it's up to the governmental entity that has jurisdiction over the road to decide on implementation and engineering.

"The task force was very good at identifying the trail routes, extensions and the pedestrian concerns,'' Johnson said, adding that officer Marilee Dorn of the police department was exceptionally helpful.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150